Name the problem

October 29, 2023 6:59 am
A pistol on display

A pistol on display at a store in New Jersey. (Aristide Economopoulos/for NJ Monito)r

A few months ago, the Alabama Resilience Council convened to discuss ways to prepare the state for extreme weather events.

Interesting ideas surfaced, especially on fortifying homes against storm and wind damage.

What wasn’t discussed?

Climate change.


Last week a school safety commission met to discuss responses to and preparations for violence in schools. There was talk of equipment and responses, all critical in dealing with the God-forbid moment of a school shooting.

What wasn’t discussed?

Gun access.

Don’t blame the people who come before these committees to explain their jobs and the tactics they use to combat tragedy and disaster. They don’t set policy.

That’s on elected officials. They set the boundaries for what these groups can and can’t discuss.

And you’re not talking about first causes, you can’t really address a problem.

You might not want to talk about climate change, but it’s already affecting Alabama. It’s disrupted rainfall patterns in the state, which have become much more uneven over the last 50 years. Water levels have risen in Mobile Bay, amplifying the effect of hurricanes and the damage to infrastructure not equipped to handle it.

Strengthening homes and roads is important. But reducing the worst effects of climate change is critical.

Alabama cannot solve the problem on its own. But it could take steps to mitigate it. Or at a minimum, get out of the way of steps to mitigate it.

I did a search recently for references to climate change in the Code of Alabama. I found two.

One, from 2009, is pretty constructive. It required fuel economy in state vehicles to increase 2% to 4% each year.

The other, from 1998, forbids the director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) from doing anything to reduce carbon emissions in connection with the Kyoto Protocol without the approval of the Alabama Legislature.

Remember the Kyoto Protocol?

If you don’t, let’s lean in close to 1998 and listen to former Gov. Fob James.

“The protocol is based on a global warming hoax,” James told a crowd of cheering mine workers on Feb. 5 of that year. “It’s a lie clothed in science to serve the elite.”

James also presented a resolution sponsored by then-Sen. Wendell Mitchell, a Democrat, urging President Bill Clinton not to sign the accord.

The Kyoto Protocol set modest targets for carbon emission reductions and gave countries multiple methods of reaching them. It would have required the United States to cut carbon emissions by 7%.

But because of an outcry driven by falsehoods about global warming, we never got into it. The United States’ total carbon emissions have dropped by just 2% from 1990 levels in the past 30 years.

And state law forbids the state environmental agency from doing anything to address them.

James’ heated rhetoric was only a taste of our state leaders’ attitude toward the existential crisis of our time. Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, the president of the Public Service Commission and an alleged utility regulator, once suggested any shift to reduce coal consumption (or utility rates) would destroy economic development in the state. (Coal miners made up just one-tenth of 1% of all employment in the state in 2020.)

And any Alabama Power customer who’s tried to install rooftop solar can tell you what a delight that is.

Which leaves us to fortify our homes against a force our policymakers won’t name.

Ignoring the guns

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, there have been at least four reports of gunfire at Alabama schools this year, leaving five people injured. Between 2016 and 2022, an average of four people every year were injured from gunfire at state schools. And gunfire killed four people at Alabama schools in those six years.

But gunfire isn’t limited to Alabama schools. From January through early September there were eight shootings in Alabama involving at least four victims, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Two of the deadliest occurred at birthday parties — a shooting in Huntsville in January that left two dead and nine injured, and an April shooting in Dadeville where four people were killed and at least 28 injured. Of the six people who died in the incidents, the oldest was 23.

You can give the schools the money they need to automatically lock classroom doors. You can subject young children to the trauma of shooter drills. You can talk about tactics when confronting a shooter.

That’s called “hardening” a school.

Policymakers just can’t talk about making it harder to get a gun.

Alabama in 2021 had the fourth-highest rate of firearm deaths in the nation and the third-highest rate of homicides. Our lax gun laws are a big reason why.

Our leaders want to ignore that fact. If a state senator can declare after gunfire killed or wounded nearly three dozen of his constituents that you can’t “legislate morality,” don’t expect his colleagues to dissent.

And yet that makes it hard to take the work of these committees seriously. A group studying Alzheimer’s disease that refused to use the phrase “Alzheimer’s disease” would be laughed out of the room. (The current committee studying that issue is serious about it.)

If you really want to prepare Alabama for extreme weather, you can’t ignore climate change. If you want to reduce the appalling toll of gun violence, you have to confront the ease of acquiring firearms in this state.

You have to name the problem.

Otherwise, you’re retreating from it.

And fortification and hardening are just half-measures from a political class that wants to turn away from serious problems and hide behind walls of every kind.

They’re giving us half-measures that aren’t barriers, but blinders.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Brian Lyman
Brian Lyman

Brian Lyman is the editor of Alabama Reflector. He has covered Alabama politics since 2006, and worked at the Montgomery Advertiser, the Press-Register and The Anniston Star. His work has won awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Alabama Press Association and Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights. He lives in Auburn with his wife, Julie, and their three children.